With roots stretching back to 1875, Íslandsbanki has a long history of building trust by providing comprehensive financial services to households, corporations, and professional investors across Iceland. As the country’s second largest bank, it has amassed a strong market share for retail and corporate banking, as well as capital markets and wealth management.
Íslandsbanki is also one of the industry’s most innovative banks. As a case in point, it recently became the first Icelandic bank to develop and publish a Sustainable Financing Framework for sustainable loans. Then, in November 2020, it became the first Icelandic bank to issue sustainable bonds. The issue was more than three times oversubscribed, and the proceeds are being used for sustainable lending and investments. By 2024, Íslandsbanki aims to cut the carbon footprint of its own operations by 50%.
Íslandsbanki is rightly proud of its achievements to date but there is certainly no danger of complacency setting in. Staying fresh and relevant, all while continuing to adapt to increasingly demanding (and nuanced) customer demands, has been its operational North Star since day one.
In order to keep thriving on the operational cutting edge, Íslandsbanki has spent the past several years intensively modernizing its IT infrastructure and systems, which has created a robust platform for the services expected by modern banking customers.
More than ever, this is taking place in the digital realm. During the first wave of the COVID‑19 pandemic alone, the use of Íslandsbanki’s app‑based services soared by a remarkable 400%.
“Our strategy in recent years has been to break up the old monolithic systems and accelerate our embrace of web‑based services and microservices,” explains Konráð Hall, Executive Director of IT Operations at Íslandsbanki. “We can then build on those components to serve our customers in a speedier and more modern way.”
The latest phase of this transformational push began in late 2020 when Íslandsbanki realized it needed to pre‑empt soaring demands for secure web and mobile services.
“Some of our monolithic systems were home‑built, and it was proving challenging to plug in third‑party services such as identity authentication. There was also too much infrastructural friction to allow users to easily self‑serve for things like loan applications. We’ve always done everything we can to strategically plan ahead and anticipate our customers’ needs,” Hall recalls.
The first step for Íslandsbanki’s IT team was to identify the best possible traffic management solution for its specific, and increasingly complicated, needs.
“We needed to move fast. Our options were to buy a bigger appliance to do the same thing, or to see if we could simplify, and maybe move away from a monolithic appliance to handle the traffic for our internal applications,” says Finnur Örn Guðmundsson, Infrastructure Architect at Íslandsbanki.
After testing a number of alternatives, the team was soon won over by the rich functionality of NGINX Plus, which is the industry’s only all-in-one load balancer, API gateway, sidecar proxy, content cache, and web server.
“We tried NGINX Open Source, as well as a number of other open source options, but we opted for NGINX Plus in the end,” adds Guðmundsson. “It has far more features for us to leverage, and it would be a lot easier for us to scale our load‑balancing infrastructure with a software‑only solution. For example, if we need to do things like integrate advanced monitoring, strengthen security controls, or orchestrate Kubernetes containers, NGINX Plus has us covered.”
Hall agrees that NGINX Plus’s ability to support integrations was a key deciding factor.
“As part of trying to get our customers to do more self‑service, we have been focusing a lot on automation and automated deployments for our software,” he explains. “When looking for a traffic management solution, we asked ourselves ‘how can we automate our infrastructure and the pipelines we have?’ and ‘what provides the best scalability and integration options?’. NGINX Plus had the best answers out there to all those questions.”
Most importantly, NGINX Plus was able to meet the bank’s specific requirements while ensuring the highest level of security and regulatory compliance.
“Ultimately, we needed an enterprise‑level solution,” Hall emphasizes. “NGINX Plus’s security muscle, combined with the support we’d expect from an enterprise solution, were another huge deciding factor.”
Once the decision was made, Íslandsbanki wasted no time in getting the solution up and running. Working closely with the NGINX team and Sensa, F5’s highly experienced local NGINX‑focused partner, the migration of all key workloads was accomplished in just a few weeks. “It needed to be a quick transition and it was,” Hall enthuses.
As well as helping Íslandsbanki manage its existing traffic more effectively, NGINX Plus has also engendered an environment conducive to additional digital development. First and foremost, by significantly reducing IT infrastructure stress, it has vividly highlighted the benefits of shifting away from a traditional, centralized hardware anchor.
“With NGINX Plus, we have been able to spread all the load we were putting on the old boxes, which it handles very well, to say the least,” says Hall.
Guðmundsson is similarly impressed with the results.
“There are a lot more options for how you want to handle and route the traffic, based on different factors, such as client IP,” he says. “At the moment we are running the same amount of load, but we could easily handle at least twice as much.”
NGINX Plus also enables Íslandsbanki to comprehensively understand the traffic it manages. For example, the solution’s monitoring capabilities includes health checks that proactively poll the upstream server status to get ahead of issues. Meanwhile, the integrated live activity monitoring dashboard provides a single‑pane view for the bank’s app environment.
“We have a lot more insights into the traffic going through the load balancer,” says Guðmundsson. “We use it in parallel with Dynatrace, which has a module available for NGINX. We know far more about how our applications behave than we ever did before. This is really important and makes a big difference to our ability to make rapid, data‑led decisions.”
While NGINX Plus has clearly made a big impact to date, it could also inspire further forward‑looking changes at Íslandsbanki.
“NGINX Plus could really catalyze our DevOps roadmap, which is the basis for our ongoing move towards infrastructure as code,” Hall suggests. “As ever, we have no plans to stand still. Watch this space!”